Now not the time to debate N.L. search and rescue readiness: MacKay
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 10:33 PM NT
Canada's defence minister is setting aside calls, at least for now, for greater search and rescue service in eastern Newfoundland, in the wake of a helicopter crash that killed 17 people last Thursday.
Peter MacKay told reporters in Halifax on Tuesday that it is too early to talk about whether search and rescue services need to be beefed up.
However, St. John's Coun. Tom Hann said the crash of the Cougar Helicopters aircraft proves the need for a search and rescue unit at the St. John's airport.
Last Thursday, there were no Cormorant helicopters in Newfoundland and Labrador to respond to the aircraft that crashed about 55 kilometres southeast of St. John's, leaving one survivor. Robert Decker, an ice spotter on an offshore oil platform, was rescued by another Cougar chopper.
Cormorant helicopters from Newfoundland and Labrador were in Cape Breton that day on a training exercise. Military officials said it took an extra hour for the Cormorants to arrive on the scene. The nearest Cormorant is normally based in Gander.
Hann said he would like to see the recommendations of a royal commission that studied the 1982 sinking of the Ocean Ranger — a rig that toppled in a severe winter storm, killing all 84 aboard — enacted, with greater search and rescue coverage for offshore oil workers.
"I think these people, who are totally professional, need more support. They need more resources," said Hann, who will be raising the issue at Tuesday evening's council meeting.A St. John's city councillor wants search and rescue capability, including Cormorant helicopters, to be stationed in the city. (CBC)
"If we had a station in St. John's and probably more resources around our coastline, it would be better for them, and better backup, and so on."
MacKay noted Tuesday that the first assistance was on the scene within 45 minutes.
"There's always contingencies in place and in fact another Cougar aircraft was the first helicopter to arrive," MacKay said.
"All of that, and the forensics, the discussion around response time, I think is more appropriately dealt with at a time after this memorial service and when we can respect the grieving families [and] support them through this period and get all the information readily available, before we start to do a full public discussion on the subject."
An ecumenical service is scheduled for Wednesday evening at the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist, in downtown St. John's. MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be attending.
Last week, Premier Danny Williams said while he would welcome additional search and rescue capability, he thought that a faster arrival of Cormorants would not have affected the outcome.
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